Reviewed by Kirbee Veroneau
When I recently came across Animal Farm in my local bookstore, aside from thinking it had a pretty cool cover design, I was immediately brought right back to high school. For certain English classes, the book was required reading. Unfortunately for me, it was never one of my required books, so as I listened to my peers’ opinions and discussions revolving around the novel, I was never able to take part. Everyone seemed to be utterly divided. Some claimed it was a work of pure brilliance, others were convinced it was the single most boring and irrelevant novel they had ever been forced to read. Now, several years later with a fresh opportunity to discover George Orwell’s short, but incredibly powerful novel, I eagerly took a seat and opened the front cover. It didn’t take long for me to discover what all of the excitement was about.
Besides being beautifully written, Animal Farm possesses themes and ideals which are still relevant to today’s society. With the use of allegory (the idea that there can be found a hidden moral or political meaning behind the apparent “fairy story” as Orwell calls it) Animal Farm instantly resonated with me. Having been written in the dawn of World War II and published during the rise of Soviet Russia, the novel reflects ideals of totalitarianism and revolution. Without giving too much away (because if you haven’t read it yet, you certainly should!), Animal Farm follows the journey the farm animals embark on to become independent of their human master and to become self-sufficient. The animals face very human problems, which only helps the reader to empathize with them all the more.
The personification of the farm animals is brilliantly mastered, and as the plot progresses, certain events take place which are later skewed and distorted to benefit certain characters. The farm animals, being entirely too trusting in the word of their chosen leader Napoleon, are willing to believe anything he says out of fear of going back to how their lives had been before their revolution. It soon becomes all too clear that Animal Farm reflects society and our all-too-willingness to believe what is shared with us from the media and government. Although Animal Farm appeared to focus solely on politics when it was written, in this modern era – where the internet seems to dominate our lives–the novel can be reflective of the distorted and extremely filtered information shared with us through media. The twisting of truth and actuality by Napoleon reminded me of instances in which it was abundantly clear how the media distorted stories for their benefit (e.g: Same Story Different Crew). In this modern era, we hardly ever read or hear a story objectively, but rather are always subjected to viewing it in the light that the media deems fit. By doing this, we’re sort of forced to view things the way the media shows it or allows us to see it. We’re unable to form our own unbiased opinions because by the time information reaches us, it’s already been distorted and filtered.
Aside from reflecting the media’s gripping hold on society, the allegory seems to make it all too clear how utterly inequitable society is in its entirety. In many instances, the rules given to the animals in Animal Farm designed to make sure that they would never become like their greatest opponent—man—soon become twisted and changed to allow some animals to be more equal than others. If that’s not reflective of our society, then I simply don’t know what is.
Although the subject matter is heavy, it’s presented in a very light way that makes the pages easy to turn, and the last sentence will leave you utterly speechless (at least it did so for me). Anyone can take something away from this book, no matter how young or old they are. That being said, the themes hold much more weight for those acquainted with the idea of totalitarianism, especially Stalinist Russia (warning: spoilers!). On the surface, Animal Farm can be interpreted as a fairytale, it’s true, but a deeper meaning becomes apparent when we slip out of our human shoes, find ourselves easily relating to the very well-developed characters, and suddenly realize that we have much more in common with farm animals than we ever would have thought possible.
For a more in-depth review and explanation of Orwell’s work, I found Cunningham’s Getting to “No”: Snowball’s Chance, Animal Farm, and “Exemplary Truth” incredibly insightful and certainly worth looking over. I’ll warn you though, if you haven’t yet read the book, it does contain spoilers.